Haze and pregnancy:
How can the haze affect me and my unborn baby?
Since air pollution affects everyone’s health, it would certainly affect pregnant women as well.
The haze can significantly compromise air quality, and numerous studies have proven that air pollution and extremely poor air quality can harm unborn babies in various ways.
- Pollutants inhaled by the mother can reach the womb through the umbilical cord.
- Air pollution exposure before birth has been linked with lower IQ in childhood.
- Exposure to smog before birth has been linked to low birth weight, premature births, stillbirths and infant deaths.
- Mothers living in areas with high levels of ozone and carbon monoxide were three times more likely to have babies with cleft lips and palates, and heart valve defects. The greatest risk occurs during the 2nd month of pregnancy, when the foetus is developing facial structure and organs.
Singapore’s air is generally clean and fresh. Even though we may suffer from the haze annually, it is unlikely that a few weeks of exposure to this type of forest fire smoke pollution would cause development defects.
While you’re probably relieved to hear your unborn baby will be fine, until the air cleans up though, it’s best to take precaution. These are all good reasons to minimise your exposure to haze, but there is no need to panic if you can't avoid it. Keep in mind that the haze is a temporary phenomenon.
"Although it is true that certain pollutants are associated with increased risk congenital defects, this only happens after long exposure."
How can I minimise exposure to the haze while I'm pregnant?
Stay indoors as much as possible
While inside your home…
- Keep all doors and windows shut;
- Turn on the air-cons (fans should be kept off as much as possible) and if your budget allows, consider fitting air-cons with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate) filters;
- Clean your home regularly to limit the dust and soot that are trapped inside your home. Wet-cleaning methods (e.g. mopping or wiping) generally do not produce dust (unlike dry-dusting or vacuuming or sweeping) and can be used to remove settled dust (sweeping with a broom is not recommended);
- If you are driving, keep the windows closed and use the air conditioner in the re-circulation mode. Try installing a car air purifier if you don’t have one already;
- Air humidifiers can also be used to dampen down the air particulates; it will create additional moisture that will help reduce respiratory irritation.
- Stay away from smokers;
- Many families have invested in air cleaners or purifiers to improve indoor air quality. Others use a humidifier to dampen down the particulates; the additional moisture can also help reduce respiratory irritation.
If you must be outdoors, always use an N95 mask
An N95 mask can filter out 95 per cent of particulate larger than 0.3 microns. It is a tighter fit than surgical masks, so can make you feel hot and stuffy. Health authorities advise pregnant women to take off the mask if they start feeling dizzy or short of breath.
(Normal surgical masks can protect the wearer’s nose and mouth from irritants in the air but are not effective in filtering fine particles.)
Keep off the roads
Road travel should be minimised to the absolutely necessary. Keeping your car home will help prevent further deterioration of air quality, and also minimise the risk of traffic accidents due to poor visibility. If you must drive…
- turn on the air-con and keep it to the "re-circulate inside air" mode;
- keep all the windows closed;
- turn on the lights to increase visibility on the road;
- never leave children unattended in the car;
- don't smoke in your car, and don't allow anyone else to smoke, either.
Stay away from smokers
If you do smoke, quit immediately. We have lots of tips to help you give up smoking.
Drink lots of water
Health experts recommend drinking two litres a day when the haze is bad. Here are more ideas for healthy and refreshing drinks for pregnant women.
Wash your hands and face
Wash off dust and dirt as soon as you step indoors. Ask everyone who lives in your house to do the same.
Keep your fitness level up
Stay out from all outdoor and strenuous activities .There are still plenty of indoor activities available, such as Pilates or yoga and low-impact aerobics. Read more about exercise and fitness in pregnancy.
Make sure you eat a nutritious, balanced diet
As always, wash or peel fruits and vegetables. You may want to forsake your usual neighbourhood wet market for the indoor convenience of the nearest supermarket.
What should I look out for when choosing a suitable air purifier?
Some air purifiers are labelled with a Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR), which has three CADR numbers - one each for smoke, dust, and pollen. The smoke CADR is the most appropriate for haze pollutants.
An appropriate air purifier should have a smoke CADR number that is at least 3 times the volume of the room in cubic metre, or 1/12 of the volume of room in cubic feet. A larger CADR number means faster cleaning in an enclosed room.
There are many effective air purifiers without CADR rating in the market. Users should obtain from the manufacturer information that backs any claim on efficiency of removal of fine particles.
- Phone apps that are available to monitor the PSI level in 3 hrs intervals. i.e: HAZE@sg, NEA, Haze Singapore
- Always have N95 Mask with you, incase the condition change in the mid-day or while you are out.